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The basics of the insanity defense in Ohio

The insanity defense in criminal trials has landed under public spotlight in recent years, largely propelled by popular culture and media stories. But what lies underneath the commentary is a much more serious issue: protecting the life and rights of the defendant. This type of criminal defense can become incredibly complex, as courts must accurately determine if the defense is valid — after all, many argue over what, exactly, constitutes as insanity. Despite contradicting views on this legal process, Ohio residents have the right to take this legal course of action in certain and potentially crucial situations.

As aforementioned, popular media portrayals of the insanity defense can skew facts and misinform the public about this serious claim. As stressed in an article from Dayton Daily News, an insanity defense is hardly a card one plays in attempt to get out of jail for free; in fact, such cases are rare. The Daily News reflects on Butler County’s demand for mental health assistance in recent years, as concern over mental illness is commonly left behind in some misdemeanor cases. Known as NGRI, claiming not guilty by reason of insanity is a plea that has been used only four times in Butler County. At the time of the 2015 article, Daily News shared the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services statistic that, of the 681 forensic patients admitted to medical facilities for mental health reasons, 38 percent are there because of their NGRI defenses.

It is clear that courts handle insanity defenses seriously, as the definition of insanity can be difficult to pinpoint altogether. As outlined on the website of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, Ohio criminal law holds that an insanity defense is successful when a person proves that he or she did not know the extent of their actions because of a severe mental defect or disease. Courts consider a defendant who does not make this plea to have been sane at the time of the incident. Because one case may differ from the next, the steps involved in this process can depend on individual mental conditions, hospitalization and other circumstances.